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Five from 50: Aqib Talib's stories of how a fearless defense proved good as gold in Super Bowl 50
The next in our series for the fifth anniversary of Super Bowl 50 features the story of Aqib Talib and how the defense prepared for Cam Newton and the Panthers.
By Ben Swanson Feb 03, 2021

With the fifth anniversary of Super Bowl 50 nearly upon us, we’re spending the week sharing stories from five players who made key plays in the game. Today, we hear from cornerback Aqib Talib, who details how the "No-Fly Zone" prepared for the Panthers, why he looked into teammates' eyes in the locker room before the game and how they matched the brilliance of a golden Super Bowl.

As the NFL prepared for the 50th Super Bowl, it was overtaken by the Midas touch.

For the duration of the season, stadium field crews stocked gold paint regardless of team colors. The league's shield logo got a new gold look, and the No. 50 numerals at midfield for every team were made gold as an ever-present reminder of the special anniversary.

To celebrate its history, the NFL then distributed commemorative gold footballs to the alma maters of every head coach and player who was active on a Super Bowl roster.

It also created an additional trophy for the Super Bowl — a gold-plated 50 that weighed a combined 66 pounds. No other Super Bowl has had multiple trophies.

That season, the NFL reveled in its gilded age.

So did Aqib Talib, and in preparation for his moment in the spotlight, he wanted a suit to match it. His message to menswear designer Chandra Ferrer was simple: "Man, black and gold it just for the occasion. Black and gold it. … She came with the shoes, the perfect little gold tux vibe. You know, I was feelin' it! It was perfect for the game."

Black coat, gold shawl lapels and a gold bow tie — Talib's immaculate style matched the vibe of the game and the unit he helped lead. The "No-Fly Zone" was a group of confident and dominant players that shut down opposing passing attacks pretty much at will. During the season, they held Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards. En route to Super Bowl 50, they held Ben Roethlisberger and the No. 4 scoring offense to 16 points before a narrow victory against Tom Brady and the No. 3 scoring offense.

With two weeks between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, they had a chance to finally get healthy and plenty of time to prepare for Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton, who would win 2015 NFL MVP honors.

"We kind of came in when we found out we was playing them, we came in and I remember [former defensive backs coach] Joe [Woods] showing us just a little bit about them," Talib says. "And he showed us, like, 12 plays. And Joe was just like, Basically, that's all they plays. He showed us how simple they offense was, and he was like, Man, we can learn these 12 plays and we'll blow these guys out. …

"We knew it was going to be about, like, out-physicaling — being more physical than them guys. We ain't have no problem being more physical than nobody. So we loved that matchup, honestly."

In the week before the team's travel to the Bay Area, the defense put together its plan.

"We had a great plan against them guys, because basically they ran the ball or they play-actioned and tried two-man routes," Talib says. "So we called basic coverages, and even in our basic coverages, we had the linebackers, like, green-dog blitzing — if the running backs stayed in, we had everybody blitz. So that's why we got pressure all day. …

"By the time we got to San Fran, by the time we got to the Bay, we already knew the game plan and we was ready to go. I promise, we probably had three of our sharpest practices of the season in the Bay. And we knew we was ready to go."

That vibe continued to game day. Talib was the kind of player who got antsy and nervous before any game, but in the locker room before players took the field, his nerves subsided and an intensity overtook him.

He went from one player to the next, staring into their eyes.

"I'm looking in boys' eyes — Who's scared? If I see somebody scared, they ain't going outside," Talib says.

He went from one player to the next, and eventually got to Von Miller — the game's eventual MVP.

"I said, Von! Let me look in your eyes, bro," Talib says. "He said, What you see? Nothin'? I said, Nothin', bro! I promise. He was just like, Yeah. He was playing that Michael Jackson: Dunnn-duh-duh-dah-dahhhh-dah-da-da-dah. That was his first time playing that. I was like, Oh, yeah, he in the zone, bro. He had a great week of practice. He was healthy. He was feeling good."

Talib didn't usually do this as some kind of ritual, but that day he felt it was his responsibility.

"Man, I felt like everybody had their job that day, and it was my job to make sure that we was on that — that we weren't going to get out-physicaled today," Talib says. "This a physical team, they finna run 12 plays on us and try to bully us. But nah, they finna know that we ain't on that. They ain't gonna smell no fear on this side. I felt like that's what God woke me up and put me on."

True to Talib's vision, the Broncos certainly were not scared.

Miller provided the game-changing play with a first-quarter strip-sack Newton; Malik Jackson recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to provide a 10-point lead. The Panthers would threaten that deficit at times — it was a three-point game early in the second quarter and a six-point game midway through the final frame — but they were not able to overcome it.

The frustration built for Newton and the Panthers. Of their 16 possessions, seven failed to gain a first down. After romping through the regular season and the playoffs with just one loss, Newton struggled like he hadn't before.

"You could see it in his face, his body language," Talib says. "You could see it. What he was saying back to us — we were talking a little noise to him. The trash he was talking back, the looks he was giving us. We was like, Yeah, he's hot. He mad. They can't get in that rhythm, he feel it. So, yeah, we can definitely feel that frustration all day."

The finishing blow came late in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trailing by six. Miller again beat the right tackle to get to Newton, this time just barely stretching his hand out far enough to dislodge it from Newton's as he brought the ball back to throw.

The loose ball bounced around a bit back toward the Panthers' end zone before safety T.J. Ward recovered it, setting Denver up four yards from the goal line. A few plays later, C.J. Anderson powered through multiple defenders for the game-clinching score that put Denver up two touchdowns.

With three minutes to play, the game was effectively over. The defense forced another three-and-out, the offense drained a minute off the clock and when Newton completed a short pass in-bounds with less than half a minute to go, they resigned to their fate, letting the clock tick down to zero.

"I remember looking at the clock," Talib says. "And it was just, like, Four … three … ahhhh! It started right there, too, and it was over with. Boom, the confetti drops."

From one moment to the next, Talib became a Super Bowl champion. Most of the year, Denver's defense paved the way for this, but without a championship, their legacy would be moot. Now, they had etched their names in the annals of NFL history — perhaps at the very top — by finishing their season with a win in a game that was awash in gold to celebrate its history and the players who helped make it.

"I feel like we did in the era where the game is set up to sell tickets, the game is set up to be on social networks — it's not really set up for the defense to succeed," Talib says. "We succeeded in the era like that with a bunch of passes. We went against the top three quarterbacks in the league that year: Tom, Ben and then Cam. Cam was the MVP that year. So, our competition was second to none. And we all had picks, we all had tubs [touchdowns], we had sacks, we danced and we made it look good."

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